Starting this Friday night, there will be a six-week series on NFL Network selecting an “All-Time Team,” and we figured now would be a good time to give our picks the a top ten NFL players of all-time. The selections—particularly the final two spots—are certainly up for debate with so many great players over the past 100 years, so feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.
10. Deion Sanders, CB
Several cornerbacks have a case to be the best ever, but Deion Sanders’ unmatched combination of lockdown coverage and playmaking ability gives him the slight edge over Mel Blount, Darrelle Revis, and a host of others. Whether it was in Atlanta, San Francisco, or Dallas, “Primetime” was always among the NFL’s most dangerous players during his prime, and 22 career touchdowns—ten on defense, nine as a returner, and three on offense—are the most ever for a primary defensive player.
9. Ed Reed, S
No one turned defense into offense better than Ed Reed, who is the all-time leader in interception yardage (1,590), playoff interceptions (nine), multi-interception games (12), and longest interception return for a touchdown (107 yards). Reed’s high-level intellect and range made him the top ballhawk in NFL history, but he could also make a huge hit on the backend to set the tone for a dominant Baltimore defense. The respect that Reed had as an adversary to Bill Belichick and Tom Brady says all you need to know about him.
8. Walter Payton, RB
The order can certainly vary, but the top-eight players are widely regarded as the best of the best. For his career, Walter Payton compiled 16,726 rushing yards and 110 rushing touchdowns, and he was named NFL MVP in 1977 when he set career-highs with 1,852 rushing yards and 16 total touchdowns. Overall, “Sweetness” is likely the best all-around pure runner the league has ever seen, and while he was mostly contained from a statistical perspective in the playoffs (3.5 YPC and two touchdowns on 180 attempts), Payton delivered the body blows for Chicago when opponents were selling out to stop him.
7. Joe Montana, QB
When Joe Montana took over as the full-time starting quarterback for San Francisco in 1981, an unbelievable string of success followed with a 98-33 record with him under center over the next decade. Simply put, Montana was a winner, and his regular season statistics—as exceptional as they were—don’t really do his game justice. In the clutch moments, Montana always came through for the 49ers, including a perfect 4-0 record and 11:0 touchdown-interception ratio in the Big Game. The poise and accuracy that Montana possessed made him the perfect quarterback for Bill Walsh’s offense.
6. Barry Sanders, RB
Football fans were only given ten years of Barry Sanders in the NFL, but pound-for-pound, there might not ever be a better individual player. Sanders—who averaged 1,526.9 rushing yards and 9.9 rushing touchdowns per season—was a six-time All-Pro, two-time Offensive Player of the Year, former Rookie of the Year, and former NFL MVP; his best season (a 2,053-yard campaign in 1997) was followed by retirement just two years later, but if he wanted to continue playing, Sanders would likely be the league’s all-time leading rusher right now. The Hall of Fame back was impossible to bring down in the open field.
5. Jim Brown, RB
The Great Jim Brown was unstoppable in the late 50’s and early-to-mid 60’s as the offensive centerpiece for Cleveland, and it led to three MVP awards and an NFL Championship across nine seasons for greatest athlete of his generation. Despite playing a 12- or 14-game schedule and retiring before the age of 30, Brown scored 126 touchdowns in 118 games, and his 5.2 yards-per-carry average ranks fifth all-time. To this day, there might not be a figure associated with the NFL that commands more respect than Brown.
4. Reggie White, DE
If there was an all-time NFL Draft, you could make a real case for Reggie White as the No. 1 overall pick because of the game-wrecking dominance he would display in the trenches compared to others at the position. “The Minister of Defense” was given the nickname for a reason, and he was awarded NFL Defensive Player of the Year with both the Eagles (in 1987) and Packers (in 1998)—the latter of which came at 37 years old. White finished his Hall of Fame career with 198.0 sacks (second to Bruce Smith, who had 200.0 sacks in 47 more games).
3. Jerry Rice, WR
The record-setting numbers Jerry Rice put up over his career almost seem impossible, but legendary work ethic from age-23 through age-44 made him an absolute technician on the football field, and it doesn’t seem likely that another wide receiver will ever be considered “better” than him. In the regular season, Rice caught 1,549 passes for 22,895 yards and 197 touchdowns in 21 seasons, and he was just as great in the playoffs with clear records for receptions (151; Julian Edelman is second with 115), receiving yards (2,245; Edelman is second with 1,412), and receiving touchdowns (22; Rob Gronkowski and John Stallworth are tied second with 12).
2. Lawrence Taylor, LB
The ultimate terror off the edge, Lawrence Taylor became the second (and most recent) defensive player to be named league MVP with a 20.5-sack campaign in 1986, and from the moment he stepped onto the field as a rookie in 1981, the former No. 2 overall pick was a force for New York. Aside from the regular season success—which also included nine first-team All-Pro selections and a record three NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards—“L.T.” was able to take home two rings with the Giants.
1. Tom Brady, QB
A six-time Super Bowl champion and still going strong, Tom Brady may finish with double-digit championships before he eventually retires, which would be the greatest sports accomplishment ever. That said, projections aren’t even necessary to put Brady atop out list, as based solely on what he’s already done, No. 12 is almost in a class of his own. Anyone that still isn’t convinced Brady has a very strong case to be considered the best player ever just needs to re-watch Super Bowl XLIX and Super Bowl LI.